27 T ohn Kenneth White, in The Values Divide: American Politics and Culture in
I Transition, observes that in spite of all the changes in the nation’s population, economy, and culture, the behaviors and values of Americans have remained remarkably constant:
Americans still love their country and believe that they can accomplish almost anything. A recent poll found 91 percent who agreed with the statement, “Being an American is a big part of who I am. ” Only 11 percent said they would like to emigrate elsewhere. . . . Frenchman Clotaire Rapaille captured this unique aspect of American patriotism:
“America is not a place. It is a dream. ”
28 In understanding the relationship between what Americans believe and how they live, it is important to distinguish between idealism and reality. American values such as equality of opportunity and self-reliance are ideals that may not necessarily describe the reality of American life. Equality of opportunity, for example, is an ideal that is not always put into practice. In reality, some people have a better chance for success than others. Those who are born into rich families have more opportunities than those who are born into poorer families. Inheriting money does give a person a decided advantage. Race and gender may still be factors affecting success, although there are laws designed to promote equality of opportunity for all individuals. And, of course, new immigrants continue to face challenges unique to their situation.
29 The fact that American ideals are only partly carried out in real life does not diminish their importance. Most Americans still believe in them and are strongly affected by them in their everyday lives. It is easier to understand what Americans are thinking and feeling if we can understand what these basic traditional American values are and how they have influenced almost every facet of life in the United States.
30 The six basic values presented in this chapter—individual freedom, self-reliance, equality of opportunity, competition, material wealth, and hard work—do not tell the whole story of the American character. Rather, they should be thought of as themes which will be developed in our discussions on religion, family life, education, business, and politics. These themes will appear throughout the book as we continue to explore more facets of the American character and how they affect life in the United States.
Го some, owning a beautiful house means they have achieved the American Dream.